Defining PPC Competitive Analysis

This week Matt Umbro (@Matt_Umbro) came up with yet another great question set titled “Defining PPC Competitive Analysis.” The following is the transcribed Streamcap from the live chat:

Q1: Why is it important to analyze the competition in regards to your own PPC efforts (if you believe it is)?

  • Competitive Analysis is a great way to jump start a branstorming session. – James Svoboda (@Realiticy)
  • It’s possible that others are successful! It’s prudent to explore what others are doing as well. – Jonathan Maltz (@MaltzPPC)
  • It is helpful to see other ad ideas, kw opps, etc. On other hand, don’t get so focused on “them” that you don’t do “you” well. – Kirk Williams (@PPCKirk)
  • To better understand what the competition is doing & see what you can do better possibly. Great for new ideas. – Matthew Lloyd (@MaLloyd20)
  • It can set expectations on what it will take to succeed for desired targets. – Joe Martinez (@MilwaukeePPC)
  • Because you have to assume your target customers will also see competitors ads, etc. Know how to compete well. – Julie Bacchini (@NeptuneMoon)
  • To get a sense of how you’re doing relative to everyone else. I typically won’t copy others because I assume I’ll do better. – Michael Fleming (@SEMFlem)
  • Why wouldn’t it be important? Understand the competition, dominate the space. Ex – see what competitors are pushing for content and see how your client can capitalize on it -targeting, new content etc. – Andy Groller (@AndyGroller)
  • If the space is new to you, it helps you get familiar with your own UVP’s and see how you can best compete. – Max Fink (@maxfink_SEM)
  • To understand if who you are competing against matches who you think your competitors are. If there is disconnect, then you might have the wrong keywords or the intention might not be clear. – Christi Olson (@ChristiJOlson)
  • Explanations for things that are happening in your own campaign. Higher CPC??? Maybe there’s a new competitor. – John Budzynski (@Budzynski)
  • They’ve spent tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds to research the market (in trial & error). Why not use that research? – Steve Gibson (@stevegibsonppc)
  • A good way to come up with creative ideas for your own efforts. Also, keep abreast of industry changes. – Theresa Zook (@I_Marketer)
  • A lot of times Competitive Analysis reveals what NOT to do. – Andrew Bethel (@AndrewPPC)
  • You want to make sure you are applying the best strategies. you can get good ideas/results from their paid search initiatives. – Juan Restrepo (@juanrrestrepo)
  • Competitor analysis is an important part of PPC to pick up on missed keywords or ad copy ideas. – Jason James
  • To answer important questions like “When should I adjust my aggressiveness?” – Michael Fleming
  • Can be a bit of an elephant in the room with clients but sometimes comp landscape makes PPC almost impossible. – Sam Owen (@SamOwenPPC)
  • It also helps to understand the space & messaging. What makes you unique. Is your pricing spot on. etc. – Christi Olson
  • Personally, I like to see if competitors are making use of all the latest and greatest ad extensions, features, etc. For the clients that are I know that their PPC program is probably in good hands. – Matt umbro
  • PPC Landing Page Analysis is also a great way to help a competitor reach their daily budget. – James Svoboda
  • SERP competition impacts CTR, Avg Pos, CPC. These impact downstream SEM performance: Leads, CPA, Revenue, ROI, ROAS, etc. – Matt Vaillancourt (@SEM_PPC_MattV)
  • Also helps prepare you for when client says “Company X is doing this…” and you’ve actually seen it. – Julie Bacchini
  • Also knowing what platforms competitors are using can help you find untapped opps for visibility, low cost barriers, etc. – Andy Groller
  • Comp intel, ad comparison,& KW coverage is important but only AFTER a solid foundation is based on best practices I already know. – Chris Haleua (@chrishaleua)
  • I like to look at SERP competitors vs. direct competitors. SERP competitors typically are the bigger clients with bigger budget. – Amanda Brown (@AmandaBrown_SEM)
  •  I like to sort of copy a competitor ads in A/B tests though. Tells you exactly where your good ad is compared to them. – Michael Fleming

Q2: What steps do you take at the beginning of a PPC endeavor to analyze the competition?

  • Hit the SERPs. – Andrew PPC
  • Get a list of competitors from the client and then do your own research to find ones they’ve never thought of. – Andy Groller
  • SEMRush, Benchtools, Spyfu, and SERP Querying. Find out their keywords, copy, and CPCs for the category. – Leo Sussan (@lsussan)
  • Impression share and Auction insights to see who the SERP competitors; Competitive software; doing my own searchs. – Amanda Brown
  • When you’re a big brand everyone looks at you. Competitive Analysis can help you stay on top of up-and-comers. – Max Fink
  • I make sure to get remarketed to by our competitors – see how they are trying to win back visitors. – Matt Umbro
  • Ad and Landing Page analysis at a minimum. – James Svoboda
  • Click around their website to get a sense of the user experience compared to the clients. Helps understand results. – Michael Fleming
  • Spyfu is the first place I go. Not exhaustive, but usually a good advertiser/ad text history of the main keywords. – Steve Gibson
  • SERPs. Actually going through Google Search. Check our their LPs & their approach. – Matthew Lloyd
  • SpyFu & SEMRush to see what ads are working for them. Look at our webmaster tools and query reports to look for similarities. – Jesse Semchuck (@jessesem)
  • Once you’ve got a list. Drop ’em in BingAds Intelligence, SpyFu. iSpionage, etc. and start mining. – Robert Brady (@robert_brady)
  • Be a searcher, look at available data, analyze LPs, check for tracking codes, etc. – Julie Bacchini
  • Auction insights is my first stop if it’s an existing account. Ad preview, SEMrush and asking client next. – Sam Owen
  • Visit known competitor sites and google them, then work off the auction insights report. – John Budzynski
  • Then visit main competitor websites to see how their offers compare to my clients’ & what main appeals they are using. – Steve Gibson
  • Comp intel can be a part of putting yourself in the customers shoes and evaluating your conversion experience vs other sites. – Chris Haleua
  • Full-blown run-throughs of their site and conv funnel, recorded so you can see what they learned when they make changes. – Max Fink
  • Use a tool like Ghostery to check what tracking tags they are using to get a better idea of what they are doing. – Andrew Bethel
  • Only test your competitors for search terms that are important to you. Don’t try to find all the terms they rank high for. – Joe Martinez
  • If they’re bidding on expensive KWs, look at their pages for CRO issues. Learn from their mistakes when building my pages. – Jesse Semchuck
  • Ask who they think are their competitors and why first. Then tools like SEMRush – Elizabeth Marsten (@ebkendo)
  • List of the competitors and top “terms”. Use Auction Insights for Share Insights. SpyFu for ad copy analysis. – Christi Olson
  • CRO competitive analysis is a good one! Get a feel for if a comp is bidding higher because their C/R is higher. – Sam Owen
  • Avg CPC’s, projected clicks and Average Page positioning. Also if you have access to tools such as spyfu, its worth analyzing. – Juan Restrepo
  • Once I have a list of keywords I run a load of searches to look for competitors on multiple platforms. – Jason James
  • I am always surprised how much my rough draft ad copy changes after performing a full test conversion on my site vs others. – Chris Haluea
    • This for sure. The biggest impact usually comes from changing the page title and snippet underneath. – Jesse Semchuck
  • Not an initial thing, but check out codes on competitor sites to see what retargeting is on there (or use Tag Asst). – Andy Groller
  • Evaluate Landing Pages for main competitors. What do they do differently vs the same. What is their funnel/purchase path. – Christi Olson
  • If you are paying for comp analysis tool, spend time making sure you understand full capabilities. Push for demo/betas/releases. – Lisa Sanner (@LisaSanner)
  • Don’t forget the value of Google’s autosuggest too, esp now that it includes competitors. – Julie Bacchini
  • Query a range of head terms & long-tail I think I may bid on. See who serves, make note of their offers, benefits, CTAs, & LPs. – Matt Vaillancourt
  • I take my keywords and see what shows up in the SERPs manually. Then I use a “spy” tool in case they are trying to block me. – Olin Downs (@olinjdowns)

Q3: How much stock do you put into competitive analysis research tools (such as SpyFu)? Why?

  • Take the data with a grain of salt. I’ve seen it be almost spot on and others way, way off. – Andy Groller
  • Directionally brilliant, but accuracy-challenged. – Leo Sussan
  • I use it as insight, but not hard-and-fast. All tools have missing KWs, inaccurate bids/budgets. It’s to be expected. – Jonathan Maltz
  • I use tools like spyfu and SEMRush with a HUGE grain of salt.. its great as a guess, but is never used as a ‘for sure’ thing. – Michael Knight (@MichaelAKnight)
  • Use the pirate code “the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.” – Joe Martinez
  • Tools can give you a good chunk of raw material to start work with. – Steve Cameron (@adventcom)
  • Tools provide macro view, but you need to do your own micro. Can point in good directions for further digging. – Julie Bacchini
  • Good rule of thumb w/ a new competitive tool – test it on your own acct to see how accurate it is. – Andy Groller
  • Tools (including Google’s and Bing’s) give me ideas, but I wouldn’t take the data as the be all end all. – Matt Umbro
  • Not much as we’ve researched our own efforts with competitive tools and results turned out less than accurate. – Nicole Mintiens (@Tregesy)
  • Very Little–they are good to get a “feel” for what’s going on, but real industry gurus know a lot more than tools. – Max Fink
  • Not much, but clients/new business always asks. Find it to be inconsistent in the free version when I check out my accounts. But it’s a good way to see if Paid Search was going on at all. – Doug Thomas (@ferkungamaboobo)
  • SpyFu and SEMRush for historical copy & competitive keyword overlapping. The #’s on spend are always a guesstimate & off. – Christ Olson
  • Use it to guide strategy, testing and opportunity. But know it’s not 100% accurate. – Amanda Brown
  • Some stock. Makes data gathering &reporting easier and more efficient. Dashboards help identify trends. But use it or lose it. – Lisa Sanner
  • I use spyfu. The info is imperfect, but the information is incredibly useful. (And historic info tells so much.) – Steve Gibson
  • As a side note, I rarely use the keyword tool for keyword research, I find my new terms from SQRs, dynamic campaigns, shopping, and auto suggest. – Matt Umbro
  • Think of tools as your private eye for high level insights. It’s not going to be accurate but it will give you the big picture. – Christi Olson
  • This tools are good for client pitches more than campaign build. Show them their competition is ” already doing it” – Roxana Hassel (@RoxanaHassel)
  • SEMRush & Spyfu for competitive keywords. – Adriana Alvarez
  • Ubersuggest and soovle are some good 3rd party tools too, especially for negative kw’s. – Andy Groller
  • They were useful guides when I was less experienced. Don’t feel like they help me much anymore. – Matt Vaillancourt
  • The tools are helpful, but not always accurate. See what kind of trended data you can get out of the tools that can be useful. – Olin Downs
  • Directionally they are fine but I don’t make decisions based solely on their data. – Coy Robison (@IamCoy)
  • If tool accuracy is suspect (as seems to be) how can you trust even general guidance? That’s coming from someone who frankly doesn’t know much about comp research tools. So educate me. – Kirk Williams
    • Hope that the same guesses are made across the board? – Jonathan Maltz
    • It’s like anything else – you have to take the information, test, and determine if it makes sense for your situation. – Matt Umbro
      • This could be me not understanding, but how can you test if the comp data is correct since you can’t see their numbers? – Kirk Williams
        • To rephrase, I might test the suggested keyword(s) and/or themes at my own bids and see how they do for my account. – Matt Umbro
    • If the tool is consistently wrong for all advertisers/searches you can use it as a gauge across all advertisers/searches. – Andrew Bethel
    • Because generally speaking, you can get theme insights on what to use for your clients. – Michael Knight
    • They can scrape keywords and copy, but it’s always a guesstimate on actual CPCs and Click data. – Christi Olson
    • It’s just a source of data – same reason why you don’t blindly accept the conclusions of academic papers. – Leo Sussan
    • An inaccurate map is better than no map – as long as you know it’s inaccurate. (esp if you’ve idea where it’ll be wrong.) – Steve Gibson
    • Some data is better than no data. It’s a starting point with a lot of information in one place. – Amanda Brown
  • We use them on a case-by-case basis. Some clients want more competitor data; others have an independent strategy. – Rohan Ayyar (@searchrook)
  • We tried Search Monitor for a while. It was interesting data accurate enough to use a KW source after our own SQR. – Chris Haleua
  • Test the tools on yourself and use yourself as a baseline for looking at the competition. – Olin Downs

Q4: As account management progresses, how does your competitive analysis change (i.e.: do you do more? Less?) Why?

  • There’s more in the beginning, for the campaign build, but it’s good to check in with time. – Jonathan Maltz
  • *WAY* more. So much has been automated on my accounts, my focus has shifted to strategy, away from direct management. – Leo Sussan
  • More as time goes on. At the beginning, time is spent more on fundamentals. – Michael Fleming
  • If my client brings on a new product I’ll see how the competition is advertising it. – Matt Umbro
  •  If I’m having a problem generating traffic/clicks, I do more. Otherwise, less. – Theresa Zook
  • At the minimum it’s important to redo on a quarterly basis with your reps and through Auction Insights, etc. to keep abreast. – Max Fink
  • Over the long term it reduces CPA and also keeps improving client relationship w/ strategy suggestions, insights, etc. – Andy Groller
  • The focus has moved away from efficiency (bid management) to program growth, and competitive analysis is part of that. – Leo Sussan
  • Less, much less. Initially, you’re learning history->today. Then only keeping up to date. – Steve Gibson
  • Comp intel evolves away from tactical ad comparison to more strategic business differentiators. – Chris Haleua
  • It can also be helpful to keep an eye on main queries/products to see if new competitors are in the mix over time. – Kirk Williams
  • Check in once per quarter or more if the space is hyper competitive or see big spike in bids, etc. – Julie Bacchini
  • If certain areas are slumping or brand new campaigns are created I’ll do more competitive research than normal. – Joe Martinez
  • I find the number of competitors invariably increases. Analysis becomes more tweak-focused. – Rohan Ayyar
  • I’m in-house, so my competitive analysis has changed since agency days. I’d say I do even more these days. – Coy Robison
  • In the beginning more to get the picture of the competition. Then monitoring on a quarterly basis to find new opportunities. – Amanda Brown
  • Press my engine reps harder for industry & keyword projections.
    Every once in a while they come thru with something useful. – Matt Vaillancourt
  • Change your kw set from what you are strong in to areas to expand or weaknesses. Forward focused, not just to validation. – Lisa Sanner
  • A lot of upfront research! As it progresses time is better spent managing, but always allow for ongoing competitive research. – Olin Downs
  • Nothing is worse than a client spotting a fast rising competitor & asking you about it. Landscapes can change QUICKLY. – Julie Bacchini
  • I always try to get into betas well ahead of my competitors – clients love when you say they are in a beta the competition isn’t. – Matt Umbro

Q5: For ecommerce accounts, do you monitor competitor pricing and actively report these numbers to clients? Why or why not?

  • Actively report? No. But if there is something that the client should know about, then it’s reported. – Jonathan Maltz
    • Agreed, I dig around the top products enough & will send over a change if noted, otherwise that’s more client side IMO. – Kirk Williams
  • We have, but it’s not part of a normal campaign. – James Svoboda
  • Not actively, especially if the client has good branding. If there are too many undifferentiated products, yes. – Rohan Ayyar
  • I find clients tend to keep on top of this on their side, rather than ask me to do it. – Steve Gibson
  • Actively no but if their ads are calling out a pricepoint/sale that you can’t beat it helps the client understand their place. – Joe Martinez
  • Actively report, no. Most of my clients know how their pricing compares. – Amanda Brown
  • Never needed to; all my ecom clients already did this. Can only imagine how awful keeping track of this would’ve been. – Matt Vaillancourt
  •  Yes and No. Competitive pricing is part of the mktg strategy and is owned by the client. We provide insights as we see them. – Christi Olson
  • I try to but breadth & depth of products are always a challenge. I’ll point out big discounts, etc if I think it warrants convo. – Andy Groller
  • I did when I was in e-commerce if our price was way off. – Matthew Lloyd
  • Depending on the client. For SMB’s sure. For major brands, they’ve positioned themselves at a price point for a reason. – Olin Downs

Q6: Do you believe as long as you are doing everything you can, it doesn’t matter what the competition is doing? Why or why not?

  • No. You’re never doing “everything you can”, only “everything you’ve thought of.” Always new possibilities. – Theresa Zook
  • I guess that depends on what you define as “doing everything you can.” – Susan Wenograd (@SusanEDub)
  • I’m just going to lay back and wait for the first YES on this one. – Roxana Hassel
  • Competitive Intelligence is still & always will be key to finding the holes and gaps to improve KPIs, including CPA. – Andy Groller
  • No, because you can always do something differently, and the competition might give some ideas of how to change. – Jonathan Maltz
  •  If you’re not monitoring the competitive landscape, then you’re not “doing everything you can." – Neptune Moon
  • Keep focused on what YOU can do. Do all the things. Watch the competition to be aware of blindspots or things you might miss. – Christi Olson
  • You should always monitor the competition, but certain budget restrictions can hold you back from going toe to toe. – Olin Downs
  • Buggy whip makers were doing “all they could” & disappeared. Gotta watch competitors, industry, trends, etc. – Robert Brady
  • To run a solid program you have to monitor the competition. – Brady Roundy (@BradyRoundy)
  • It *always* matters what the competition is doing. Even if you’re a monopoly, the FTC is your competition. – Rohan Ayyar
  • In many ways competition is the ONLY thing that matters. Lone ad in the SERP is pretty rare now; offers must be very compelling. – Matt Vaillancourt
    • The sad truth is a bad account with no competition will do better than a good account with heavy competition. – Sam Owen
  • Of course it matters. If you have 10 competitors all bidding $1 on a $0.99 LTV product PPC is impossible. – Sam Owen
  • Definitely not. It’s an auction where bids are based on how much you make from a visitor. It’s a comp, so competitors important. Also, if you’ve a weak offer, it’s weak COMPARED to competitor offers. Nothing on SERPS is in a vacuum. – Steve Gibson

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More PPCChats

Don’t forget to stay tuned for the next #PPCchat on Tuesday at 12 noon Eastern, 9 am Pacific and 5pm in the UK. Same Chat time, same Chat channel.


Check out the PPCChat Twitter list to see and connect with all current and prior participants.

• Matt Umbro (@Matt_Umbro)
• James Svoboda (@Realicity)
• Paul Kragthorpe (@PaulKragthorpe)
• Amanda Brown (@AmandaBrown_SEM)
• Andrew Bethel (@AndrewPPC)
• Andy Groller (@AndyGroller)
• Brady Roundy (@BradyRoundy)
• Chris Haleua (@chrishaleua)
• Christi Olson (@ChristiJOlson)
• Coy Robison (@IamCoy)
• Doug Thomas (@ferkungamaboobo)
• Elizabeth Marsten (@ebkendo)
• Jesse Semchuck (@jessesem)
• Joe Martinez (@MilwaukeePPC)
• John Budzynski (@Budzynski)
• Jonathan Maltz (@MaltzPPC)
• Juan Restrepo (@juanrrestrepo)
• Julie Bacchini (@NeptuneMoon)
• Kirk Williams (@PPCKirk)
• Leo Sussan (@lsussan)
• Lisa Sanner (@LisaSanner)
• Matt Vaillancourt (@SEM_PPC_MattV)
• Matthew Lloyd (@MaLloyd20)
• Max Fink (@maxfink_SEM)
• Michael Fleming (@SEMFlem)
• Michael Knight (@MichaelAKnight)
• Nicole Mintiens (@Tregesy)
• Olin Downs (@olinjdowns)
• Robert Brady (@robert_brady)
• Rohan Ayyar (@searchrook)
• Roxana Hassel (@RoxanaHassel)
• Sam Owen (@SamOwenPPC)
• Steve Cameron (@adventcom)
• Steve Gibson (@stevegibsonppc)
• Susan Wenograd (@SusanEDub)
• Theresa Zook (@I_Marketer)

Defining Streamcaps Without Actually "Defining" Them (for real, there’s no definition anywhere for streamcap…it’s not even a real word….for real!)

This is a guest post by Paul Kragthorpe; works at WebRanking in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Connect with Paul @PaulKragthorpe, and Google Plus.

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